The environment, nature and environmental sustainability

Last updated: 4 10 2018

Image Boken om Sverige
This material is from the book About Sweden.

Environmental sustainability or sustainable development mean that society develops in harmony with nature; that people and companies behave in a way that does not harm the environment.

The Riksdag has decreed environmental objectives for environmental sustainability that the whole of Sweden has to work to. The environment is to be protected, which means that emissions are not to harm people and biodiversity is to be preserved. The use of energy and natural resources is to be restricted and made more efficient in order to reduce the risk of climate change.

The municipalities are responsible for local environmental efforts. For example, this relates to how the municipality manages waste or how we can use energy effectively. Everyone who lives in Sweden has a responsibility to live in a way that is environmentally friendly.

Waste management and recycling

A lot of waste is generated each year in Sweden. Households throw away 4.2 million tons of rubbish. That comes to 430 kilos per person. Dealing with all this waste is expensive. It is important to manage waste in an environmentally friendly way.

Much of what we throw away can be recycled and used again. This saves natural resources. Everyone in Sweden has a legal obligation to sort their waste and there is a system for making use of and recycling the materials and energy found in waste.

There are waste disposal points or waste disposal rooms in most rental apartment buildings where you sort your waste.

This means that you dispose of food waste, metal, glass, plastic and paper in different containers.

Many landlords provide their tenants with special bags for food waste. Food waste is put in a composter and turned into soil.

There are also other places where you can dispose of waste.

  • Recycling stations

You can dispose of packaging, newspapers and batteries here.

  • Hazardous waste collection point, that are often located at petrol stations.

This is where you can dispose of waste that is hazardous to the environment.

  • Recycling centre

This is where you dispose of bulky waste and larger items, as well as hazardous waste such as chemicals and electronic items.

Sorting food waste

The food waste you sort of is composted and turned into nutrient-rich soil. When you sort food waste, the amount of waste that needs to be burned is reduced.

The following are the types of food waste that can be composted:

remains of fish and shellfish, remains of meat, egg shells, vegetables and fruit, bread, tea, coffee and coffee filters, kitchen paper, flowers and plants and soil.

Sustainable Waste and Water, City of Gothenburg

Photo: Sustainable Waste and Water, City of Gothenburg

Sorting packaging, newspapers and batteries

There are recycling stations in all municipalities where you dispose of such things as packaging, newspapers and batteries. When you dispose of packaging at a recycling station it has to be clean and dry.

Recycling stations have different containers for:

  • newspapers and magazines
  • cardboard packaging
  • plastic packaging
  • metal packaging
  • clear glass packaging
  • coloured glass packaging
  • batteries

Photo: Sustainable Waste and Water, City of Gothenburg

Newspapers and magazines

When we recycle newspapers and magazines, we save a lot of energy when new newspapers and magazines are made as new paper can be made from the old newspapers and magazines.

Cardboard packaging

Cardboard packaging such as empty cartons can be recycled and used to make new packaging.

Plastic packaging

Both soft and hard plastic can be recycled. You can dispose of items such as plastic packaging and polystyrene foam in the container for plastic. Plastic items that are not packaging, for example dish brushes and toys, are considered normal waste and are not disposed of here.

Metal packaging

Metal can be recycled several times and saves a lot of energy.

You can dispose of steel, sheet metal and aluminium in the container for metal.​

You cannot dispose of metal packaging containing paint or glue in the container for metal – this is hazardous waste and must be disposed of at a hazardous waste collection point. Aerosol cans are also considered hazardous waste.

Glass packaging

Glass can also be recycled several times. We save both energy and raw materials when we recycle glass. About 40 per cent of the recycled glass is used to make new glass items such as bottles. You have to separate coloured and clear glass when you are sorting your waste.

Residual waste

The waste that cannot be recycles is disposed of in the normal container in the waste disposal room. This is usually burned in large incineration facilities. The heat generated by burning residual waste is normally made use of. This can be used to heat buildings, for example. This is called district heating.

Electrical products

Electrical waste is the name given to all the electrical items we dispose of. All electrical waste has to be disposed of at a recycling centre. This includes light bulbs, fluorescent tubes and everything with an electrical cord or batteries. The batteries have to be removed and sorted separately.

Bulky waste

Bulky waste includes our old furniture and broken bicycles. If you live in a rental apartment building, you can get help to deal with the bulky waste from the property owner. Otherwise, you have to dispose of this at a recycling centre.

Nearly everyone has hazardous waste at home. This might be acetone, lighter fluid, nail polish or a fire alarm. Car batteries, waste oil, paint, chlorine, glue and fluorescent tubes are other examples. Photo: Bo Kågerud

Hazardous waste

Hazardous waste includes items that may be toxic, explosive, flammable or corrosive. Hazardous waste can be harmful in small amounts.

It is therefore very important to make sure you don't dispose of hazardous waste along with normal waste.

Hazardous waste has to be disposed of at a hazardous waste collection point, a recycling station or special vehicles that collect hazardous waste.

Examples of hazardous waste:

car batteries, fuel and oil, paint and glue, chlorine, fluorescent tubes, light bulbs and low-energy light bulbs, solvents, white spirit, paint thinner, turpentine, paraffin and acetone, lighter fluid, rechargeable batteries and some degreasers and cleaning products.

Left-over medicines that need to be thrown away have to be handed in to a pharmacy. Photo: Christer Ehrling


It as a major problem that so much rubbish is thrown outdoors instead of in designated containers – despite the law against this. Rubbish thrown in nature harms it, and costs many millions of kronor every year to clean up.

Water and sewerage

There is a lot of water in Sweden. The water that comes out of our taps is of a very high quality. It is often better than bottled water. It is only the cold water from the tap that is clean. The hot water may become dirty from the pipes it flows through. Therefore, you should not drink hot water or use it directly for cooking. Water from the drains travels through sewers to a sewage works. The water is cleaned here before being released into the sea. It is not possible to completely purify the water and it is difficult to remove toxic substances. Therefore, we must all be careful about what we pour down the drain.

Only cold tap water is considered drinking water. Photo: Hanna Sjöstedt

What can we pour down the drain?

The only thing you are allowed to flush down the toilet is toilet paper and things that come out of the body. Toilet paper is a special type of paper that breaks up in water. Other types of paper such as kitchen paper, wet wipes and paper tissues can block the drains. They can also create problems at the sewage works.

To avoid pouring toxins down the drain, you can buy environmentally friendly products. Washing powder and washing-up liquid marked with the Svanen or Bra miljöval symbols are all less harmful. Medicines or medical products you no longer need must be handed in to a pharmacy. Pharmacies also have special bags for disposing of medicines.


All the energy and electricity we use has an environmental impact. Large quantities of energy are used for transport, to heat buildings and in industry. The energy often comes from oil, gas and coal and is not good for the environment. In order to minimise climate change, we need to use less energy and choose energy from water, wind and the sun, which is better for the environment.

In order to contribute to reducing emissions, you can take public transport. This means taking the tram, metro, train or bus instead of driving. You can also choose to take the train instead of flying. It is also a good idea to think about what you buy at the shops. You can buy things that are made close to where you live. You can also choose to eat less meat as meat production is very energy intensive. You can also save energy at home.

Good Environmental Choice and The Swan

Saving energy at home

You can save energy at home by no placing furniture in front of the radiators. This makes it easier for the heat to disperse throughout the room. Electrical appliances are often on all the time, in standby mode. You save a lot of energy is you always turn off electrical appliances. You also save a lot of energy is you put a lid on the pan when you are boiling something on the stove or using a kettle.

Use low-energy light bulbs as well and turn off the lights when you go out.

Wind farm Photo: Colourbox

Where does your electricity come from?

Electricity, electrical energy, in Sweden mainly comes from hydroelectric and nuclear power. Hydroelectric power is electricity created in hydroelectric power stations along many of Sweden's rivers. There are three active nuclear power stations in Sweden with a total of ten reactors. The nuclear power stations provide enough electricity for more than half of Sweden's needs. A small proportion of Swedish electricity comes from biofuels, oil and gas. Biofuels are things such as wood. Ten per cent of our electrical energy comes from wind power. Hydroelectric and wind energy are best for the environment as this is energy from sources that never run out.

The Swedish government has set a target for a sustainable energy supply system with 100 per cent renewable energy.

Choosing an electricity supplier

You can save a lot of money by changing electricity supplier. If you live in an apartment, you can save between 400 and 1,000 kronor per year. If you live in a house, you can save several thousand kronor. You cannot change network operators.

Elpriskollen – compare electricity prices and terms

You can find electricity prices as well as terms and conditions for all the electricity suppliers in Sweden on the website Elpriskollen.

Changing your electricity supplier is simple. In most cases you just need to make one telephone call. But you do have to find out what your current contract is, as it can be expensive to change in the middle of an invoicing period.

Different types of electricity contract 

Fixed electricity price:

The price of electricity is fixed for a certain period. This type of contract is good as you are protected should the price of electricity go up. However, your electricity does not get cheaper when the price goes down.

Variable electricity price:

The price of electricity changes based on the market. You get cheaper electricity when the price of electricity goes down. The price of electricity can go both up and down during the contractual period.

Until further notice price:

A price you get automatically if you haven't chosen anything yourself. The price is variable and changes about three time per year. The until further notice price is often higher than the fixed or variable prices.

Ecolabelled electricity (green electricity):

Ecolabelled electricity means that the electricity you pay for is produced from environmentally friendly sources such as wind and hydroelectric power.